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I've still got to go clubbing, says Northern Ireland great Hughes

By Steven Beacom

Published 02/06/2015

On the move: Aaron Hughes knows finding a new club is crucial to his involvement at Euro 2016
On the move: Aaron Hughes knows finding a new club is crucial to his involvement at Euro 2016

Northern Ireland great Aaron Hughes is intent on finding a new club that will enable him to continue his outstanding international career.

The 35-year-old defender made his 96th appearance for his country in Sunday's 1-1 friendly draw with Qatar, taking him top of the list of Northern Ireland's most capped outfield players.

While it's unlikely that he will overtake the all time record of goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings, which stands at 119, the Cookstown native is determined to reach the century and be part of Michael O'Neill's plans for the Euro 2016 finals, with Northern Ireland in a strong position to qualify.

Just before the club season ended it was revealed that Championship outfit Brighton were releasing Hughes.

It was no surprise given that Seagulls boss Chris Hughton had hardly played the former Newcastle and Fulham star in the final months of the campaign.

Hughes, after a year with Brighton, is now on the search for a new club, though he insists that won't begin in earnest until after Northern Ireland's behind closed doors 'training match' with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin this week and the vital Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania at Windsor Park on June 13.

"Right now I'm just focused on the upcoming games and then in the summer it's about finding a club which will enable me to come back for the internationals," said Hughes, following the draw with Qatar at Crewe's Gresty Road ground.

"My focus after the season was to get a holiday and give the body a rest then get fit for these games.

"Once Romania is out of the way I'll really be concentrating on it and if something comes up in the meantime it's there, but I don't want to let it concern me or distract me now.

"The move has to be right for me. I'm getting to the back end of my career so I'd like to go somewhere I will probably play a few more games than I have this year.

"At this stage of my career I don't want to be sitting watching games tick past. I want to play football, it's what I train every day to do.

"You can never walk in somewhere and expect to play every game, your performances and fitness have to be good, but I'm looking for somewhere with a realistic chance of playing. The match with Qatar was the first time in a while I've had a game and it was nice to be out on the pitch."

Asked if he would drop down a division, Hughes said: "It would depend if it suited me or not. It's sort of a nice position, I can weigh up a few options and see what's out there. It's early days."

Hughes admitted becoming Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player, going past the 95 mark set by record goalscorer David Healy, wasn't on his mind ahead of the Qatar friendly.

"The focus leading into this week was just to come back fit and get through this game, and the one behind closed doors before the big one against Romania in June," he stated.

"I don't want to put it down or say it was a small thing, but it wasn't the focus in my mind. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but I've been lucky enough to hang around this long and get the record. It's something I'm proud of and when it starts to sink in I'll realise what an achievement it is."

Quizzed on reaching the ton, typically the always professional defender, responded: "It hasn't happened yet and there's a lot of other things for me to focus on first.

"If we got to the Euro finals that would take care of the 100 caps - it would come at some point. So the Euros is the big thing at the moment and if we get there then fantastic."

In a throwback to internationals gone by, Hughes led the team on Sunday with regular skipper Steven Davis enjoying a break before joining up with the squad this week and vice captain Jonny Evans starting on the bench.

"Jonny would have been first choice to captain if he'd been starting and I didn't actually know until I sat down in the dressing room and the armband was on my peg," revealed Hughes, who made his international debut way back in 1998.

"I almost forgot what to do at the coin toss. I've had my time as captain, so Jonny took it when he came on."

While Evans looks to be on his way out of Manchester United, Hughes believes Paddy McNair, who played alongside him at Crewe, has a long future ahead of him at Old Trafford.

"Paddy's had a fantastic season after being thrown into a United side that had a difficult start to the campaign. As their season grew and got better so did Paddy's," said Hughes.

"You saw his quality against Qatar. Even from when he first came into the international squads he's so much more comfortable and confident.

"Like Jonny I expect him to go on and play a lot of games at United, become one of the mainstays and the same goes for Northern Ireland as well."

Belfast Telegraph

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